Friday, March 6, 2020

Actors' Gang! Can't Pay? Don't Pay!

These are the nuts and bolts of The Actors' Gang's wonderful production: Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!" translated by Cam Deaver. 
Directed by Bob Turton. .  
Kaili Hollister (Antonia),  
Lynde Houck (Margarita), 
Jeremie Loncka (Giovanni), 
Thomas Roche (Luigi), 
Steven M Porter (Sargent, Agent, Undertaker, Old Man), 
Danielle Ray Powell (Office, Agent 2, Undertaker Assistant, Nurse).
This is the only time this cast stood still! photo by Ashley Randall

It's not often that I arrive home late at night after seeing a play and sit right down to use the energy that the show has generated to start my review.  Not being prone to gushing, I have to say that from the moment the lights shifted from the house to the stage at The Actors' Gang tonight.. the screaming and rushing and pure silliness to rival Lucy and Ethel on speed grabbed the audience and never let go.

I sometimes have to write a review like a book report.  It's what most theatre reviews are.. a guide to the reader about the plot and the production.. This show is so different and so wonderful that I just want to free associate and tell you that if you live a reasonable distance from the Ivy Substation in Culver City, you must take the information below and make a reservation  and take a friend or two and see Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!"  translated from the Italian by Cam Deaver. It is skillfully directed by long time AGT member, Bob Turton, who, in his "...turn off your cell phone speech", echoes the mission of The Actors' Gang. Come together!  This play, especially for theatre folks, is one of the most energetic and entertaining shows I've seen in a long time. 

In 1997 Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was truly a Renaissance Man, working with his partner Franca Rame... with whom he developed theatre pieces that certainly changed the lives of all who were fortunate to see them.

There are slight problems with this production but it really doesn't matter.  The action and dialogue are so manic and over the top  that the action alone, beautifully performed by a seriously demented cast of six with Steven M Porter and Danielle Ray Powell returning again and again as different characters to the delight of everyone. It's ridiculous .. really.. just silly. 

It's rare that I find myself using the term 'brilliant'.. and now searching for superlatives after recently seeing "The Book of Mormon" I've realized that sometimes all you can do is repeat yourself: Outstandingly amazingly superbly ridiculous ... and fun!

Born in 1926, and active from an early age, Fo used theatrics to poke fun at the powers that prevailed in Italy.  He was censored and surveilled, prevented from traveling but always came down on the side of the common man.  Advocating that human beings must take charge of their lives, the play shares that message. The joy of seeing actors who are having such a good time, amping one another up beyond the limits of civil theatre, the show flies off the stage to gales of laughter.   Sometimes the pace runs away with itself:  the dialogue  swallowed up beyond understanding, but this ensemble is so in tune, the dialogue and overlapping of lines and  great physical action taken directly from Italy's own Commedia delle Arte? It really doesn't matter..

It's a romp and a hoot and a hollar.. Director Bob Turton's intimate set plops down in the middle of the huge playing area.  Lucky front row patrons are included in the action as the fourth wall is frequently broken to everyone's delight.  

This is what theatre is supposed to do.. It's supposed to gather us up and never let go: teach a lesson, promote an ideology, Engage!
Turton's direction and honorable nods to the roots of Commedia make this more than a must see.. it's an experience that will lift you up and have some fun with no time to judge or worry about anything except what the heck is going to happen next.  

Taking place in a town where working clas folks are having a tough time buying groceries, paying the rent and keeping the electricity on, we meet Antonia (Kali Hollister) and her pal Margarita (Lynde Hauck) who have to hide their stolen bounty  bundled home, "appropriated" from the local market where the manager has upped the prices of everything!   Anotonia's husband, Giovanni (Jeremie Lonka), is a conservative "by the book" working class guy. The girls can't tell him that the goods are stolen for fear of his turning them over to the cops. Things go nuts with a plot device where Margarita hides a bag of groceries under her coat, immediately becoming pregnant! Her poor confused husband, Luigi (Thomas Roche) rounds out this spectacular cast while eating something vile from a jar!

How Mr. Steven M. Porter manages to play four distinct characters (all of whom look like one another) is worth the price of admission alone. His partner in law and other stuff, Danielle Ray Powell is wonderful, too. There in lies the tale: it's a farce. We are politicized and entertained and energized. As it should be.

I've been critical of other critics in the past for using over the top hyperbole when writing about a show.  This one has earned my unflinching respect, not only for Deaver's translation whether or not I got all of the machine gun delivered text because I left the production with raves blossoming in my head on my way home.  

With all the song and dance and goings on, the play comes to a moment. This is the moment that I think Dario Fo was hoping to be heard. Deaver's translation: 
GIOVANNI (standing.. to the audience)
"We workers and employees, we’re under their heel right now. Minimum wage, temp, gig, seasonal, laid off, homeless—we find ourselves in a bit of a lowly state. So low, in fact, our asses are on the ground! But watch out—little by little, we’ll make it to our knees, get back on our feet. And we warn you: once we’re standing strong and united, we’ll be pissed off and ready to fight. Because on our feet, we always have our greatest effect!"  BLACKOUT!

When we are in the Church of Art (with a nod to Lynn Foulkes) and can actually feel our spirit move, that's a good sign that something important is happening. Tell a friend. Make a theatre party.. come back to LA from where ever you are and see what a truly great production does for you.  

by Dario Fo
Translated by Cam Deaver
The Actors' Gang
 9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA  
Thursdays at 8:00 pm; 
Fridays at 8:00 pm; 
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sunday March 22, 2020 at 2 pm
Closes March 28, 2020 

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